Public school districts will have to return about $7 million to the state if the Louisiana Legislature fails to come up with the dollars to finance enrollment growth, education officials said.
Scott Richard, executive director of the Louisiana School Boards Association, said Wednesday he and others are trying to win support for the money before the Legislature adjourns on Monday at 6 p.m.
“It is unconscionable to think districts would have to send money back to the (education) department at the end of the fiscal year when we know the reason is student enrollment growth,” Richard said.
Michael Faulk, superintendent of the Central school system and former president of the Louisiana Association of School Superintendents, said what state officials are contemplating is illegal.
“I think it is unconstitutional,” Faulk said.
However, the state Senate on Thursday voted 37-0 for a bill that would pay for the additional students after Senate Finance Committee Chairman Eric LaFleur, D-Ville Platte, added an amendment to do so.
The measure is set for a House vote on Friday.
The topic stems from how many students are enrolled in public schools.
State aid typically is based on estimates before final action on the budget.
Once final enrollment figures are in, the Legislature usually makes an adjustment, providing funds for what usually is higher-than-expected enrollment.
But things are different this year, mostly because Louisiana faces a $600 million shortfall starting July 1. Richard said that, under current plans, the state would provide only $5 million of the $12 million needed statewide to cover the costs of additional students.
Unless things change, school districts statewide and charter schools would face reductions of up to $486,555, in the case of the St. Tammany Parish school district.
Other potential reductions include East Baton Rouge Parish, $323,884; Jefferson Parish, $382,692; Ascension Parish, $209,358; Livingston Parish, $266,810 and Lafayette Parish, $224,666.
Exactly how school districts would cope with the reductions is unclear.
However, any decrease would be on top of a $44 million reduction in state aid — the first in decades — that districts already face for the 2016-17 school year.
Richard said the $7 million was added to House Bill 1047 but was removed earlier this week in the Senate Finance Committee.
Faulk said the enrollment money is clearly owed school districts because last year’s legislative resolution that authorizes the aid — $3.7 billion in this case — made clear that enrollment costs are an estimate.
The spending is spelled out in what is called the Minimum Foundation Program .
Faulk noted that additional dollars for student growth have been routinely allocated by the Legislature in previous years.
“They may not have liked it but they understood they had to fund the formula for the number of students enrolled,” he said.
About 720,000 students attend Louisiana’s roughly 1,400 public schools.
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